Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Augusta Akerman

GUS AKERMAN aka AUGUSTA AKERMAN is an incredibly talented polymath, cost since training as a photographer, shop Akerman has turned her hand and eye to a variety of creative endeavors: Art Direction, Set Design, Still and Fine Art Photography, Illustration and costume design. Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Augusta with regards to this skilled multi-tasking whilst picking her brains for any tips she has for budding creatives…

The work is rooted in a sense of humanity, questioning human behaviour and ideas of natural selection, photography and illustration lend themselves to this action of watching and recording the minutie of everyday life (See Amelia’s Magazine’s Review on the new Tate Show exploring the Voyeristic nature of the Camera). With this in mind lets delve into the interview…

What came first photography or illustration?

I started taking photography seriously during my A levels, although I had been taking photographs for a long time, it was my Design Technology teacher who encouraged me to use them as my final piece. As for drawing, it is quite a new thing for me, I was very unconfident with my drawing skills at school and quit Art as a subject due to an ongoing struggle against Art teachers who despaired at my dysfunctional representations of still lives and self-portraits. Whilst at Glasgow School of Art I started to keep small drawing books that I would show to no one, and then suddenly I realized I was drawing every day and forcing people to look at them!

How did the illustration drawing book project develop?

The book project developed over a long period of time in which I drew every day. It started as a way to try and improve my drawing “practice makes perfect etc, etc” and ended up being a culmination of everything I did that month. The shows I went to see, the books I read, the conversations I overheard until I then put the drawings, scribblings and photographs into some kind of order. The book as a format is such an amazing instrument for an artist to explain themselves, and without sounding too dictatorial, can direct the viewer through handpicked images in sequence with a kind of reveal. I love making the books, as everything however small or silly suddenly becomes something in its own right when put alone on a page or sat opposite another image.

What inspires you on a day to day basis?

It changes all the time. Mostly its social histories, how people lived and how they survived, what they did/ do with their time. I’m inspired by a lot of literature from science fiction to The Moomins especially ‘Moominvalley in November’ which I re-read recently and found it to contain such perfect descriptions of the funny character traits of humans. The Imperial War Museum is one of my favorite places and one I find especially inspiring as well as the British Museum with its collection of the ‘Lewis Chessmen’. Working on jobs where you meet so many different people every couple of weeks, becoming very close very quickly due to waking up at 5 in the morning looking awful! And spending the whole day together whilst having to be completely silent during takes is quite inspiring.

You’ve been involved in a range of projects from photography to short films as well as illustration. Could you perhaps talk a little about how you manage all your different projects?

Working freelance I think is the most wonderful thing, although tough and discouraging at times I think that it allows me to really enjoy all the projects I happen to be involved in, be them personal or as part of a bigger production. Creating a website for me was also a fantastic way to keep working privately and still have the chance to allow others to see the work I was making as an artist who is also looking for a job! Balancing working as part of the Art Department for productions and Photography I find is very natural. I enjoy creating sets and props, thinking about characters and colour and then find that Photography allows me to see the reality as an image. I feel that when I take stills on a film I have worked on as an art director or part of the art department I am more sensitive to the character within the set environment we have created, celebrating the set and including it within the photograph with I think is sometimes unfortunately overlooked when filming begins. Where illustration and drawing is concerned I draw with the hope of perhaps making a new book or exhibiting, this is generally done in the studio in my spare time.

How did these projects develop? And in a difficult market do you have any tips for graduates/art students currently thinking about job prospects outside of the relative safety of university?

After leaving art school I spent months on the internet looking for Photography jobs or jobs that would allow me to still be involved in making things and thinking about artists and talking about creative making to people. Which is I think what many recent graduates miss when coming out of university and not having anyone to talk to about arty farty things. After a while I started e-mailing Photographers, Art Directors, Production designers all people whose work I had seen and really enjoyed. Some got back to me some didn’t, but through the safety of email I managed to convince some people that I was hard working and a willing assistant. For someone coming out of University I would say once again that making and maintaining a website is such a fantastic tool to show people that you do work, you do make things and that you are interested.

What has your favourite project been so far?

Most recently I made a short film with my brother, a collaboration between several art schools in different countries. It was his project but I said I would like to help out, we made huge Bauhaus inspired costumes out of paper and fabric and filmed still tableaux’s of them destroying their property, it sounds crazy but it was so much fun! I also recently worked on a short film called ‘AilemA’, about a young girl coming to terms with Dyslexia who mixes words and drawings together on paper and all over her bedroom wall. I made a lot of the artwork for the film and used many of my drawings to cover a wall in the girl’s bedroom. It was not only the fact that I got to do a lot of my particular style of drawing for the film but I also had rather sentimental feelings for the story due to being a dyslexic myself.

What was your experience working on short film Rain? How did this opportunity develop?

Working on ‘Rain’ was a fantastic and yet surreal experience for me, the Production designer and I went to stay in the location for nearly two weeks, we dressed the sets all day and then withdrew to the attic to sleep at night. It definitely was one of the bigger short films I have worked on highlighted by the fact we had to have a rain machine on constantly throughout the whole shoot. I was fortunate to get this opportunity through the fantastic production designer; Miren Maranon, who I often work with. She is fantastic to work with and extremely talented I owe a lot to her.

What was your role on set?

Usually on set I work as a standby art director, art department assistant or stills photographer. I do enjoy working on set but my favourite part is definitely the pre production. Coming up with ideas and colour palates, finding and making props, its always quite sad breaking down the set at the end of the shoot.

You have shown in an extensive range of galleries – what is the nature of your work in these exhibitions?

In most of these exhibitions the work I have shown has been Photographic with perhaps some of the handmade books. It is only recently that I have shown a video piece and have never had a show based solely around the drawings. The subject matter of the exhibitions is dependant on what I am interested in at the time. For ages I was obsessed with this book ‘England in Particular’ and would go to National Trust properties photographing Dovecotes and village Yew trees. Although coming from a fine art background my photography has more of a documentary style to it. Whereas my illustrations are not realistic at all, but completely the opposite, they try to get the right size, shape and proportion but fail and maybe because they fail so spectacularly I like them.

Who are your favourite designers/photographers/illustrators?

I have many favorite artists, designers, and photographers. The ones I can think of at the moment are… the photographer Rinko Kawauchi, sculptor Richard Long, writer and illustrator Tove Jansson, writer and illustrator Rudyard Kipling, photographer Martin Parr, writer Douglas Adams, photographer Tierney Gearon, photographer Richard Billingham, photographer Homer Sykes, illustrator Pauline Baynes, artist David Shrigley and artist Louise Bourgeois. The list could go on and on….

Do you look at any blogs or use twitter to communicate as part of your creative practice?

No I do not really use twitter, but I do look at quite a lot of blogs to do with fashion, drawing, photography, magazines, news and opinion etc. I really respect people who create blogs and websites in their own spare time about the subjects they are enthusiastic about. It’s interesting to see how this generation has become so confident in themselves as a singular inventor or creator. Drawings and artwork don’t have to hide away in the corner of a studio or under a bed, someone somewhere will accidentally come across them and think “hey! That’s great!”

What role do you see photographers and illustrators playing in society?

A role with as much importance as anything else, illustration is such a natural way of communicating ideas to people and provides a kind of escapism for both the drawer and the viewer. Photography has provided us the perfect mirror and document of the time we live in and the ability to really see the past. Both mediums contribute to society by allowing us to take a step back and enjoy human invention and imagination.

What’s next for Augusta?

Not long ago I moved into a new studio in Elephant and Castle with my friend Carolyn here we come up with lots of ideas for projects and spend the evening drawing and talking, mostly talking! We are hoping to have a small exhibition in the studio later this year. During the summer I am starting work on my first feature film, which is so exciting, fingers crossed it will all go well!

Could you tell me about your short film plan for the summer?

Im not sure how much I can say! Its a kind of dark british comedy being shot in and around London about a burglar. The production company and crew is made up of lots of people I worked with before so I am very excited to see them all again. We have been discussing the films atmosphere and colour palate for some time now and I cant wait to get started in the next couple of weeks choosing materials and seeing locations.

Categories ,AilemA, ,Augusta Akerman, ,bauhaus, ,British Museum, ,Douglas Adams, ,Glasglow School of Art, ,illustrator, ,Moomin, ,Neve Campbell, ,photographer, ,Rain, ,Richard Billingham, ,Rudyard Kipling, ,Set Design, ,The Imperial War Museum, ,Tove Jansson

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Amelia’s Magazine | Camberwell College of Art MA Illustration 2014 Final Show Review

Camberwell MA Illustration Jady Ong 1

Illustration by Jady Ong

Earlier in July I headed to Camberwell College of Art on Peckham Road to take a look at the MA Illustration Final Show. I admired and enjoyed the fact that the students from this postgraduate programme had created a custom website and twitter account specifically for the show. I also loved their simple but striking logo design for the show which had also been made into stickers and placed on the floors of corridors and steps of staircases in the college building to guide the visitor to their work. Here is a selection of the work which most took my fancy and also provided inspiration for my own illustrating practice.

Camberwell MA Illustration Jady Ong

I truly enjoyed Jady Ong’s large black and white pieces depicting figures with animal heads in dreamy narrative scenes, but totally fell in love with her sketchbook. In it I found much simpler, but gorgeously effective, collages of anthropomorphized animals which spoke straight to my collage-loving heart.


There was something in Marja de Sanctis’ illustrations which brought to mind Frida Khalo’s work. I loved her version of The Mona Lisa.

Camberwell MA Illustration Linlin Cui 4

The next group of works which I found mesmerising were Linlin Cui’sFalling Women‘. These women float in greenish waters, as if in a cosmic liquid womb, with their umbilical cords still attached to their bellies, connecting them perhaps to their essential human nature, before all the subsequent add-ons.

Camberwell MA Illustration Fox by David Surman

I thought this stunning, also floating, Fox by David Surman totally stole the show in that particular room of the exhibition. It is part of a series of illustrations to accompany Christina Rosetti’s classic poem ‘The Goblin Market‘.

Camberwell MA Illustration Marina Muun

Among the course graduates was Amelia’s Magazine contributor Marina Muun. The series of works produced for the show is called ‘Horizons‘ and is ‘centered around perception of external stimuli and the ability to match visions and experiences to a deeper knowledge within‘.

Camberwell MA Illustration Augusta Akerman

I liked how Augusta Akerman’s elegant repeat patterns for textiles or wallpaper, such as ‘The Salmon Run‘, explore cycles within the animal kingdom and often raise awareness around endangered species. A few of her patterns are also inspired by David Attenborough’sLife on Earth‘ series, which I am also a big fan of!

Camberwell MA Illustration Hyojin Hwang

South Korean Hyojin Hwang is interested in the relationship between plants, buildings and people and merges them together in powerful compositions such as this.

Camberwell MA Illustration emily nash

This book by Emily Nash contained a plethora of fascinating narrative scenes inspired by folk tales and current affairs.

Camberwell MA Illustration Eleanor Percival

I loved this image by Eleanor Percival, whose work is heavily influenced by mythology, depicting Aphrodite in her sacred grove gathering enchanted apples.

Camberwell MA Illustration Qianqian Zhang

I found the contrast created by small dense areas of colourful forms placed within a large expanse of white in Qianqian Zhang’s very appealing.

Camberwell MA Illustration Sean McSorley

English literature graduate Sean McSorley showed images which reflected an interest in early-mid twentieth century cinema and literature.

Camberwell MA Illustration pray-for-nothing-by-Fay-Huo

Fay Huo’s large pieces were very accomplished and interesting to look at both from far away, as well as zooming in to examine smaller details.

Camberwell MA Illustration Jamie Lang

The archetype of The Fool has always held a fascination for me and I found Jamie Lang’s version beautiful.

Camberwell MA Illustration Hammer Chen happy-elixir-shopping1

Hammer Chen delighted me with her ‘Happy Elixir Shopping 1‘ in which this female shopper seems to have eyes like torches, as if searching in the darkness for the next thing to buy.

Camberwell MA Illustration Sungyoon Jung Punishment

More eyeballs shooting out yellow matter came from Sungyoon Jung’s piece called ‘Punishment‘, which despite its bright, comical style still looked very sinister.

Camberwell MA Illustration Martina Paukova bedroom

This was a striking composition by Martina Paukova who explores the world of sculpted bodies a lot in her work.

Camberwell MA Illustration nina schulze

Nina Schulze’s surreal female figures are inspired by fashion as well as dream visions.

Camberwell MA Illustration Evelyn Albrow

I loved Evelyn Albrow’s expressive use of ink.

Camberwell MA Illustration June He

I was also very impressed by June He’s series of works entitled ‘A Prototype Myth World in Hallucination 1-9‘ in which he combines various symbols from different cultures to create a new mythology, but was a little disappointed I could not find a website for this work.

Camberwell MA Illustration Chris Kiesling

Gorgeous print techniques and shapes were found on Chris Kiesling’s monochromatic offerings.

Camberwell MA Illustration Alice Ferrow

I was taken by this, also monochrome, piece by Alice Ferrow whose work depicted folklore themes mostly in gouache.

Camberwell MA Illustration Hannah Prebble

And ending back in colour with these fun creatures by Hannah Prebble. I particularly enjoyed Hannah’s Tumblr site, which is a very lively and inspiring blog.

Photographs of images in the exhibition by Maria Papadimitriou; work images courtesy of graduates.

Categories ,Alice Ferrow, ,Armando Mesias, ,Augusta Akerman, ,Camberwell College of Art, ,Chris Kiesling, ,David Attenborough, ,David Surman, ,Degree Show, ,Eleanor Percival, ,Emily Nash, ,Evelyn Albrow, ,Fay Huo, ,Frida Kahlo, ,Graduate Show, ,Hammer Chen, ,Hannah Prebble, ,Hyojin Hwang, ,illustration, ,Jady Ong, ,Jamie Lang, ,June He, ,Linlin Cui, ,MA Graduate Show, ,Maria Papadimitriou, ,Marina Muun, ,Marja de Sanctis, ,Martina Paukova, ,Nina Schulze, ,Qianqian Zhang, ,Sean McSorley, ,Student summer shows, ,Sungyoon Jung

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Augusta Akerman: Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion featured artist.

Augusta Akerman 'a section of my first litho print'
Augusta Akerman is yes, you got it, yet another Camberwell College of Arts graduate. She contributes a painterly image to my colouring book inspired by a love of 50s modernism. Find her in Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion, available now on Kickstarter.

Augusta Akerman 'Couples and Technology'
I love the way you draw figures, which artists have inspired you? I think they look very Henry Moore-esue
Yes you are very right! I have always been very inspired by that particular period around 1950‘s modernism, Festival of Britain era, having been brought up on artists like Moore, Hepworth, Ravilious and Bawden. These were the artists my parents loved, so we were always going to galleries to see this kind of work. Every summer we go to Cornwall and St.Ives was and still is an annual pilgrimage to see Hepworth‘s studio and garden, I could probably draw it from memory. After finishing my MA I had been introduced to what I would call ‘Now Illustration‘ and I found myself constantly looking at contemporaries’ work and worrying about my style. Earlier this year I decided that I was just going to let myself be influenced by the painters, sculptors and designers I grew up loving and have found myself much happier with my work.

Augusta Akerman 'Swimming Against'
Why did you decide to move away from your first degree in fine art photography towards illustration?
Towards the end of my BA at Glasgow College of Art I was already starting to move away from photography. I was making small artist books with a combination of illustrations and photographs and enjoying putting them together, designing covers and hand binding them. I returned to London and worked as a photographers assistant all the while drawing at home in the evenings and weekends. I think this was a real time of discovery for me. I was so embarrassed about my drawing skills that I didn’t really show or tell anyone but kept hundreds of small A5 sketchbooks with random illustrations in. In the end I became more and more confident and illustration naturally took over. I also wasn’t particularly interested in digital photography as I enjoyed using film so I think cost and lack of regular access to a darkroom also contributed to me moving away from it. However I still take photographs, film and digital, who knows what will happen next.

Augusta Akerman 'Sea to Stone'
What did you do in the period between your BA and MA studies?
I worked as a Set Decorator in film and advertising. I fell into this career, starting as an art department assistant and gradually working my way up. It was a very enjoyable job most of the time but could be also be extremely intense and stressful. In the end the feeling that I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do took over and I made the decision to do the MA. I was so frightened to leave that job, because in that world you spend years making contacts and working for little money in the hope of getting somewhere. I am very lucky to have made some good friends whilst working in film and still do the odd job here and there.

Augusta Akerman 'mono print portrait'
Why did you choose Camberwell for your MA?
I chose Camberwell because it was the nearest illustration course to my parent’s house! In order to do the MA I had to move back home and save as much as I could, and I could walk there in under half an hour. The MA represented a way to take a year off from film and see if Illustration could possibly be an option for me. I didn’t apply anywhere else so it was Camberwell or nothing. When meeting the head tutor Jan Woolley and visiting lecturer Chloe Cheese, I had an overwhelming feeling that this was it, I was very close to making a big change in my life, I would have cried my eyes out if they had said no!

Augusta Akerman 'Plastic Sea Soup' nominated for One to Watch
You have described your work as a combination of classic illustration and abstraction, what does this mean in practice?
This is because I think it sits between these two worlds, sometimes I can be quite real in my representation of animals and people, and at other times I just want to work with shapes and textures. I also tend to prefer work that takes a theme or idea and presents it not as a realistic depiction, but one that leaves room for the viewer to project their subconscious onto it.

I definitely think there is an influence of the classic in what I do as inspired by great artists like Tove Jansson and Pauline Baynes. But I aim to give a sense of modern movement and sculptural weight to some pieces by working with dark texture and light washes. I spent a long time being quite soft and delicate with my line and colour choices, so I’m enjoying this moment right now where I’m being braver using black crayons and ink to be more blocky and meshing them with the silky lace lines of water colour and gouache.

Augusta Akerman 'a section from the Great Migration'
What is your preferred way to approach a new piece of work when first starting to create it?
Depending on whether it is a personal project or a commission I tend to do things differently. However they both start the same way, with research. I love researching the subject and finding out different meanings or views or small snippets of information that can be included in the work to give a little extra detail that maybe only 2 percent will ever ‘get’ but will still interest others. I work either at my desk or sometimes in my dad’s studio. When at my desk I usually put on Radio 4 or a documentary on my computer that I listen to like a radio play, otherwise I get distracted by the images if I can see the screen! When in my dad’s studio I’m usually doing something a bit more messy like mono printing or lino, he tends to listen to the radio too or is working on the computer.

How do you combine pen with litho and other methods of production?
I always work by hand, first sketching in my sketchbook, then taking the images to another level of finish either by painting over them or developing them with mono printing or another print process until I like the way they look. I like the play between hand and digital imagery, computers are extremely useful when cleaning and adding colour to images but I sometimes feel I get overwhelmed by the possibilities. I think in this extremely accessible digital age it’s easy to put off the actual thinking of the development of a piece until it is staring you in the face with 100 layers in Photoshop. I find it hard to think clearly with the back lit white screen and feel more in control with a bit of paper in front of me.

Augusta Akerman 'Amelia's Colouring Book' for online interview RGB
What inspired your piece for my colouring book?
Whilst on holiday in Cornwall I had been drawing in my sketchbook, letting my hand and brain sort of automatic draw. I was not thinking about anything in particular but allowing what I had seen or heard that day come out onto the paper. I thought it looked like a diary in a pattern format. When I came back from holiday and thought about the colouring book I returned to the pattern idea and thought it might be nice for people to colour it in. I started automatic drawing again but this time I thought about all the themes I would like to explore in new projects and shapes and images I was interested in. I decided to create a seated figure drawing what would eventually become the wallpaper as I felt this developed the idea of a dreamy state of doodling, of letting your mind wander around your worries and dreams. The male figure was added later and I liked the idea of it also speaking about a relationship with another person who understands your dreams and helps you conquer your worries. They are both just quietly enjoying a moment supporting each other to make this big mural that charts all the ups and downs of creative making. It’s the most colourful piece I’ve made in a while so the brief did pull me out of my comfort zone a bit.

You recently took part in New Designers One Year On – how did you get involved and what project were you showcasing?
I applied to New Designers One Year On on a whim, because I wanted to be proactive to see if I could promote myself and my work in a professional situation. When I was selected I was very happy but also a little terrified as I knew there would be a lot of preparation and self promotion needed to really get the most out of it. I was showcasing the wallpapers and textiles I had made on my MA as well as newer designs and illustrations. I was very lucky to be surrounded by some amazing designers and illustrators and got a lot out of the experience. I had done Pulse earlier in the year with UAL and do think that in the future I might only do one design fair a year, not only due to cost but also due to the amount of energy you need to sustain that level of self promotion to justify it.

Why have you chosen subjects such as climate change for the basis of your designs?
I am very influenced by nature and the natural order of things and have developed a huge respect for the world around us. I am also a constant watcher of all of David Attenborough‘s programs which means I’m a little obsessed with life cycles and repeating patterns. During my MA I knew I wanted to work with pattern and create an illustrated collection of wallpapers and textiles. The life cycles seemed to be a perfect subject as they repeat over and over again. Climate change sneaked into the work, because of researching the migration of animals and reading about the effect climate change is having on their lives, habitats and evolution. For me this is an ongoing theme and subject, I wanted to introduce and present the many circular structures that exist around us in a beautiful and accessible way, as well as providing a piece of information that some may not already be aware of.

Augusta Akerman 'Botanical Institute Wallpaper'
How do you create DIY wallpaper?
There are many ways! I have recently taught a DIY wallpaper class at the South London Botanical Institute where we used craft foam stamps, lino, foam rollers, stencils and direct printing (covering leaves and flowers in paint and pressing onto paper) to create repeat imagery. If you have the time and the space you can buy a roll of lining paper from B&Q and create your own.

What does your residency at the London Print Studio encompass?
I have been working with Lithography, a process I’ve been wanting to explore in more detail for a long time. I love the quality and possibilities of this particular printing process, you can use a number of materials to make your image as well as scratching away layers in the drawing that gives an almost etching like quality. Lithography is a lengthy process which I think puts a lot of people off. I spent 3 and a half hours grinding my large stone to get it right. I have the blisters to prove it! But even this I really enjoyed, it feels quite ancient grinding and preparing the stone then working into it with litho crayons and tusche. You can get an extremely varied quality of line that is then perfectly replicated when printing, but each print is unique with minute changes due to ink placement and roller pressure. I just love it! Although I did find the printing the hardest part this time. I was working one Saturday printing the largest stone and realised I had no more strength left to turn the wheel on the press, thank god I had nearly run out of paper!

How do you hope to grow your fabric design and wallpaper business?
After the Homes and Gardens Fabric Awards, I felt encouraged to continue with my new collection of wallpapers. I have to admit I was starting to feel a little helpless, I had applied for funding to help build the business which I didn’t get and had thought I might need to put it on hold for a while. I am now working on the new collection and hope to have it done by March 2016. It’s very hard trying to start a side business when you’re looking for freelance work and working a part time job, but I enjoy constantly working and thinking up ideas for projects. This is what I wanted! This is why I gave up other careers; in order to be in charge of my own creativity.

Augusta Akerman contributes her work to Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion, available now on Kickstarter. Make sure you grab a copy before the campaign closes later this month! Read a previous interview with Augusta here.

Categories ,#ameliasccc, ,Adult Coloring Book, ,Adult Colouring, ,Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion, ,Augusta Akerman, ,Bawden, ,Camberwell College of Arts, ,Chloe Cheese, ,Climate Change, ,Colouring Book, ,Cornwall, ,David Attenborough, ,Festival of Britain, ,Glasgow College of Art, ,Hepworth, ,Homes and Gardens Fabric Awards, ,illustration, ,interview, ,Jan Woolley, ,Kickstarter, ,Lithography, ,ma, ,Moore, ,New Designers, ,One Year On, ,Pauline Baynes, ,photography, ,Pulse, ,Radio 4, ,Ravilious, ,Set Decorator, ,South London Botanical Institute, ,St.Ives, ,Tove Jansson, ,Wallpaper

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